D.B. from Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Earlier this month, our tenants turned off the heat and left for a week. Pipes froze causing extensive damage throughout our condo. Our insurance company only paid us for bills we paid: the plumber to replace the broken pipes and for our personal items (appliances), as the condo association’s insurance is the primary carrier in this situation. Two weeks later and the association has thus far refused to file a claim with their insurance. They also refused to allow or hire on their own, a clean-up company in to dry the condo out. After 5 days of inaction on the part of the association, we tore up the carpet and removed the insulation in the basement ourselves, and hired a company to clean up the water and dry it out. The reason the association has not filed a claim keeps changing, but currently we are being told they may just pay for the damages out of the association’s funds, rather than file an insurance claim. I read the association has to make that decision “in a timely manner”. What is considered timely? Do we have any recourse against the association or the one board member who seems to be making these decisions independently, for failure to file a claim, for further damages due to not hiring a company to clean up the water? Is there someone we can file a complaint with in the state? The association did hire a contractor to assess the damages and give an estimate for repairs, but since the condo is still in the process of being dried out, it was premature in my opinion. The association has not shared with us the quote from that contractor but has shared what is listed on the quote to be repaired, but the quote does not include the repair of all the damages such as sub-flooring and basement stairs. To add to the confusion, our tenants have co-signers which the association is saying we as owners should not be expecting the association to file an insurance claim but we should be going after the tenants and co-signers. Our understanding is the association still is required to file a claim and they can opt to go after them, should they choose. Are we correct in that? Our insurance company may end up paying for the full damages and then subrogating with the association’s insurance and/or the tenants and co-signers if this drags out much longer, but we feel that is a long shot at this point.
Mister Condo replies:
D.B., that’s quite a mess you have on your hands, isn’t it? I should first point out that I am neither an attorney nor an insurance expert so please consider my advice as friendly. For a legal opinion you should seek the advice of an attorney. As for who is responsible for what, let’s take a look at the events in question. First off, damage to the interior of your unit, regardless of cause, is typically handled by your insurance and the insurance of the renter. If neither of you had insurance you may be on the hook for the damage to the interior of your unit. As to damage to association-owned property (common walls, neighboring units, etc.), the association has a duty to repair. There is no requirement that they do so by filing a claim with their insurer; they may opt to pay out of pocket for a number of reasons, including the risk of increased premiums for making a claim. There is no legal definition of “in a timely manner” so I don’t think you’ll get much leverage out of that angle. As for co-signer responsibility, my understanding is that applies to the relationship between you as the landlord and your tenant. Check the wording but it most likely says that the cosigners guarantee the timely payment of rent. I doubt is says anything about responsibility caused by the tenant. The question I have is how much money is involved here? If it is significant enough to merit a lawsuit, speak with an attorney and learn exactly what you can expect to recoup if you win. If the amount in question is small enough, I think I might just pay it and take the write-off as an expense of doing business. And I would definitely add a clause to any future leases that prohibits a renter from turning off the heat. This whole thing could have been avoided by just leaving the thermostat set at a low setting. All the best!